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Pacific islands commit to making cities sustainable as urban growth gets set to double

19 July 2019

More than 200 participants from over 25 countries have committed to making cities in the Pacific prosperous, inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, coming out of the fifth Pacific Urban Forum (PUF) held last week in Nadi, Fiji.

With the theme ‘Accelerating implementation of the New Urban Agenda to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in the Pacific’, the PUF brought together national and local government delegations, policy makers, practitioners, civil society organisations, development partners and funders from across the Asia-Pacific, to debate and imagine what a sustainable urban future will look like in the region.

The PUF was hosted by the Government of Fiji and supported and co-organised by UN-Habitat, the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, Monash Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI), the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and Compass Housing Services.

The opening remarks on day one by Fiji's Minister for Industry, Trade & Tourism, Local Government, Housing and Community Development, Hon. Premila Kumar, set the tone for the PUF, calling for urbanisation to be addressed as part of a larger system. She stated in plainly: ‘urbanisation is a sustainable development issue’.

The need for holistic solutions for urbanisation was stressed even further on day two by Fiji’s Prime Minister, Hon. Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama – who said that sustainable urban development must tackle the interlinking issues of inequality and climate vulnerability.

‘We know that those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are the poorest,’ the Prime Minister stated. ‘The boldness of our decisions and the strength of our cooperation at this Forum and beyond will determine whether our urban centres emerge as engines of sustainable development, or bastions of inequity and climate vulnerability’.

With the number of urban dwellers in Pacific Island Countries (PICs) predicted to double over the coming decade (from about 47 per cent of the population today), the Forum was an opportunity for participants to share novel and creative solutions that are currently being implemented to tackle the challenges that rapid urbanisation poses.

Monash Sustainable Development Institute, one of the co-sponsors and organisers of PUF, showcased the RISE program as an example of an action-research placing evidence at the heart of the program’s efforts.

Talking at a breakout session at PUF, RISE Program Manager Dr. Matthew French said better evidence is needed of what works in terms of affordable urban service delivery. ‘RISE aims to generate evidence on the implementation of nature-based solutions – like wetlands and biofiltration gardens – in delivering sustainable, cost-effective health and environmental improvements.

‘These solutions have the potential to enable access to clean water for people living in informal settlements now, rather than waiting years for costly, ‘big pipe’ water systems to eventually reach the settlements,’ French said.

The closing of PUF saw PICs come together and endorse a collective Declaration, outlining the direction and actions that their governments will take to ensure that Pacific urban areas are ‘prosperous, inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

In his closing address, Tuvalu Prime Minister, Hon. Enele Sosana Sopoaga commended the regional pledge to action, and committed political support to the cause. Hon. Sopoaga committed to tabling the Declaration at the upcoming Pacific Island Forum leaders meeting in Tuvalu next month.

Countries’ commitments and action plans for sustainable urbanisation will also be carried forward to the 7th Asia-Pacific Urban Forum being hosted in Penang, Malaysia, in October, and the 10th World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi in February next year.

In sponsoring and co-organising PUF, MSDI and RISE reaffirmed their commitment to being a lead partner supporting sustainable development in Fiji and the Pacific, working side-by-side local partners on challenges and identify pathways to achieve the SDGs through transdisciplinary research, knowledge and action.